Category Archives: Features

BelSoc Spring Walk: Belsize House and other local country mansions

Belsize House and other local country mansions – the story of the Belsize Estate before the 1850s.

12 May 2024 at two times: 11:00 am and 2.30pm. Tickets are at Eventbrite, link for 11am and link for 2.30pm.

Join us for a guided walk led by Averil Nottage.

Belsize means beautifully situated.  Surrounded by countryside and with fine views of London, it was a perfect location for an aristocratic country estate. Belsize House, a mansion surrounded by a 25 acres walled garden, was occupied by aristocrats in the 16th and for much of the 17th centuries. In 1720 it became a pleasure garden which was at first very fashionable and then became notorious for bawdiness and gambling.

At the beginning of the 19th century the whole of the Belsize estate was sub-divided into 8 to create mini country estates within the reach of successful businessmen.  During the walk you will hear the story of Belsize House and how the sub-estates were developed. Few of those buildings remain, but they have, nevertheless, left their mark on Belsize as we see it today.

Belsize Society Newsletter February 2024

Welcome to the February BelSoc Newsletter.

It was good to see many members at this year’s carol singing. We were joined by Primrose Hill Community Choir, raising funds for Marie Curie. In January, local historian Martin Sheppard attracted a large audience when, at a joint event hosted with the Friends of the Belsize Community Library,  he spoke about Belsize during the Second World War. An interesting talk included some music from the period.

This Newsletter features a piece by Averil Nottage about Belsize House, other mansions and the development of Belsize since the 16th century. There is to be a local history walk around this theme in May led by Averil and the Newsletter also gives details about how you can book for this using Eventbrite or by contacting us if this option is not possible.

Whether there is adequate provision for those in our community who are not online has become a concern as Camden considers removing paper visitor parking permits. The Newsletter covers our contribution to the consultation where, with other resident bodies, we are raising the need for scratchcard permits for those unable to access services online. This Newsletter also covers the consultation on the Camden Local Plan, and has a piece about what’s on at Hampstead Theatre.

We are getting ready for the AGM. Papers are with this Newsletter, and you’ll also see an article about our request at the AGM to raise the membership fee level. There is a request for volunteers, especially if you are interested in joining the Society’s committee. We would also be grateful for any member recommendations for Tradesmen You Can Trust, with a form enclosed with this Newsletter.

We hope you enjoy this Newsletter.

What’s coming up at Hampstead Theatre?

On the main stage – Double Feature  From 8th February

Alfred Hitchcock – the world’s most celebrated filmmaker

Tippi Hedren – Hitchcock’s muse and leading lady

Michael Reeves – brilliant new director trying to prove his worth

Vincent Price – seasoned hero of the horror genre

Two stories splice together seamlessly, exploring the glamour – and the grit  – associated with the silver screen. Where does the power in Hollywood truly sit: with the star on screen, or in the director’s chair? John Logan is an American playwright and screenwriter with first-hand experience of the movie world having written the screenplays for The Aviator, Skyfall and Gladiator. His stage work includes the Tony Award-winning play Red (West End and Broadway), Peter and Alice (West End) and the book for Moulin Rouge (West End and Broadway)

Jonathan Kent returns to Hampstead where his previous productions include Good People, The Slaves of Solitude and The Forest.

Next on Downstairs – Out of Season  From 16th February

The band is back in town!  Michael, Chris and Dev are returning to Ibiza and the hotel where it all began thirty years ago…  But Michael’s stuck in London, Dev’s got a bad back and Chris… well, he’s just Chris.  And it turns out that none of them are in their twenties anymore!  As this middle-aged trip down memory lane is about to hurtle off the tracks, Holly and Amy arrive, so down-to-earth they might just save our feckless heroes from really humiliating themselves…

Neil D’Souza’s comedy picks over the gulf between past aspirations and present realities – how we can come to terms with the past and find a way to face the future.  D’Souza’s other plays include Small Miracle (Colchester) and Coming Up (Watford).

Alice Hamilton is Hampstead Theatre’s Associate Director.  Her credits include the Downstairs productions of Every Day I Make Greatness Happen and Paradise, and The Dumb Waiter and The Memory of Water on Hampstead’s Main Stage.

Belsize House and other local Country Mansions

In this article Averil Nottage provides a short taster of her local history walk on 12 May

Belsize means beautifully situated. Surrounded by open countryside and with fine views of London, Belsize was a perfect location for an aristocratic country estate.

Belsize House, situated near the junction of Belsize Park and Belsize Avenue, was probably built at the end of 15th century. In 1568 the house had 24 rooms, including a hall, long gallery, and a great chamber. Its 25 acres park was enclosed in a pentagonal wall surrounded by over 200 acres of farmland. The estate was leased to William Waad, an eminent statesman and diplomat whom Queen Elizabeth entrusted with her most delicate missions. 

After the Restoration the house was rebuilt, and the estate passed to the Chesterfield family.  By the early 18th century, they had moved out and the house was sublet. In 1720, with a flourish of trumpets, James Howell opened the house and grounds as a pleasure garden. It offered fine dining and wines, music, dancing in the lavish ballroom, fishing, hunting and betting. Initially it was very fashionable, and the Prince and Princess of Wales dined there, but soon after it was described as a “scandalous Lew’d House.” Magistrates intervened to prevent unlawful gaming and rioting.

It wasn’t until 1746, when the house was rebuilt as a private residence, that the area regained its respectability. After Ken Wood, it remained the pre-eminent park on the northern heights for another century.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries several houses were built around Belsize Lane.  In 1794 Baron Loughborough, the Lord Chancellor, bought one as his country residence. It was a substantial mansion in 21 acres and had a private drive. He held extravagant banquets there with guests including the Prince of Wales. The house was renamed Rosslyn House after he received an earldom in 1801.  

Queen Victoria visited it to see whether it would be a suitable place for her children to spend their summers. In 1808, when the 5th Earl of Chesterfield needed to clear his debts, the Belsize Estate was sold off as 8 sub estates.  These miniature country estates, with “capital mansion houses” set in a few acres of park and surrounded by meadows, would be within the reach of successful businessmen.

The lease for the most northern plot went to George Todd, a Baltic merchant who had made his fortune in Riga. He demolished a house in 16 acres of land to build a magnificent mansion called Belsize Court. Opposite the mansion, William Tate build a large cottage orne with gothic towers on the site of a “Chinese” cottage. Now known as Hunters Lodge, it remains on the corner of Belsize Lane and Wedderburn Road. Todd also built a grand house between Belsize Lane and Belsize Avenue called Ivy Bank.

Edward Bliss, who made his fortune by manufacturing gun flints in the Napoleonic War, bought the sub-estate between England’s Lane and Belsize Grove. He leased individual plots to builders, creating a piecemeal development.

Nearly 38 houses were built by 1830 and occupied by “persons of quality”. Three “post Waterloo” houses at 129-133 Haverstock Hill, and a row of 1820s stuccoed houses on the south side of Belsize Grove, remain. John Maples, who owned the furniture store, lived for many years in Bedford House, a substantial property on the corner of Belsize Grove. It was advertised in the Times in 1905 as comprising of 13 bedrooms with dressing rooms, three bathrooms, dining, drawing, morning and billiard rooms, a library, conservatory, stabling for five horses and a garden with lawns, greenhouses etc.

By the middle of the 19th century London was extending northward, creating demand for suburban housing. Belsize House was demolished in 1853 and replaced with the large stucco villas that characterise Belsize Park. In the 1860s land from the Rosslyn Estate and Belsize Court was taken to build Lyndhurst Gardens. Gradually other grounds and mansions made way for housing. Rosslyn House was sold to developers in 1896.  In the 1920s the site of Ivy Bank became a motor car garage. Belsize Court was demolished in 1937 and replaced by blocks of flats of the same name. The houses on Bliss’s estate were mainly replaced by flats in the 1960s and 70s to meet the needs of the time. Bedford House wasn’t demolished until the 1980s.  But whilst the mansions and estates have gone, we can still see their traces all around us when we know what was there before. 

34 Belsize Lane receives Grade 2 Listing

Historic England has let us know the details and background of a new listing of a Belsize house designed by architect Georgie Wolton 

No. 34 Belsize Lane, designed by Georgie Wolton (1934-2021), has been listed at Grade 2 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of Historic England. It is the first building by Wolton on the National Heritage List for England – the official record of all buildings and structures of national architectural and historic interest. The listing includes the boundary wall to Belsize Lane.

34 Belsize Lane was designed by Georgie Wolton as a home and studio for herself and her family in 1975-1976. It remains a private house. It is one of a small number of buildings by the architect, who increasingly specialised in landscape design as her career progressed. Wolton had a pivotal, though short-lived role in the formation of the architectural practice, Team 4 in the early 1960s. She went on to work in independent practice, one of few women architects in the post-war period to do so.

Georgie Wolton’s buildings are little known, but she made an important contribution to post-war Modernism in England. 34 Belsize Lane is a very personal work which has survived remarkably intact. There is no street frontage.  Behind an unassuming boundary wall (which you will have passed many times going into or out of Belsize Village) lies a small masterpiece – a house she called the “last of the English follies”, one totally in touch with the exciting architectural zeitgeist of its day, but also unique and uncompromising.

34 Belsize Lane captures many of the ideas which influenced her practice as well as her skill as a designer.  Bomb-damaged sites and the subdivision of large houses and their gardens offered challenging but affordable plots for young architects after the Second World War. Wolton chose to create a single-storey house almost completely hidden from view, shielded behind the old brick boundary wall which extends along Belsize Lane. Behind the wall, the brick and glass building sits nestled amongst greenery with three distinct courtyard gardens created around it so that every room feels connected to the outdoors.

Wolton was interested in creating a strong relationship between inside and outside and needed plenty of wall space to display her personal collection of Turkish kelim rugs. She introduced rooflights, bespoke sliding timber shutters and conservatory-like antechambers into her design – these areas illustrated the concept of what she called “pause” spaces separating the living and working parts of the house.

Wolton had a longstanding interest in buildings designed to function as both domestic and work spaces. Two of her three key buildings were designed as working houses: Cliff Road Studios and 34 Belsize Lane, both in Camden.

The following biographical details have been supplied by Historic England.  Georgina Cheesman attended Epsom School of Art before studying architecture at the Architectural Association, London between 1955 and 1960. She married publisher David Wolton in 1962 and had their daughter, Suke, the same year.

In 1963, after a brief stint working for Middlesex County Council, she formed the architectural firm Team 4 with Richard Rogers, Su Rogers, Norman Foster and her younger sister Wendy Cheesman (later Foster). It was Wolton who allowed the practice to function, being the only member of the group who was at that time a fully qualified architect. She moved on very swiftly however, partnering for a short time with Adrian Gale, formerly of Mies van der Rohe’s studio, before spending the rest of her career as a sole practitioner.

Her Fieldhouse in East Horsley, Surrey (now demolished) was built in 1968 with a corten (weathered) steel frame. It is amongst the first domestic uses of corten steel in the UK. It was one of several of the houses designed by British architects in the 1960s and ‘70s which were heavily influenced by Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois.

Wolton’s Cliff Road Studios, Phase I (1969) and II (1971-2), are her best-known work. The scheme drew admiration in architectural circles for its reference to early European modernism and Parisian studio houses of the 1920s.

As a landscape designer Wolton worked for private, public and commercial clients.  She completed many schemes for her longstanding friend, Richard Rogers, as well as others at Dartington Hall, Devon and The River Café, Hammersmith.

Finding Comfort Among Strangers

A new novel from Belsize resident 

Ranee Barr

In Ranee’s recently published novel “Finding Comfort  Among Strangers”, set in 1970s Belsize Park and surrounding areas of London, many of you will recognise places and landmarks which are no longer there, and a way of life which no longer exists. Writing this novel, a work of fiction which draws on her own experiences, has also given Ranee the opportunity to weave into the narrative the social history of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she was born and raised.

The novel began as a short story when Ranee was studying creative writing at City Lit, London many years ago. It only began to take shape after she retired from her day job and after publishing the book “Belsize Remembered”. She is currently working on her second novel, a psychological thriller set in Mexico, where she spends several months during the winter.

Finding Comfort Among Strangers is available at Daunt bookshop Belsize Park, from Amazon and as an ebook on Kindle.

Belsize Remembered (Compiled by Ranee Barr and David S Percy; edited by F Peter Woodford; photographs by David S Percy) is also available at Daunts.

Open House Festival: Belsize Court Garages

Belsize Society committee member and architect Sanya Polescuk writes: 

On 31 September, Open House Festival took place all over London. It was a great opportunity to step into and see many amazing buildings, usually not open to public. As every year for the last decade, following the project’s win of Architects Journal’s Retrofit Award 2013, Sanya Polescuk Architects opened the doors to their studio and the HMO flat above at 8 Belsize Court Garages.

Over 100 visitors came during the weekend of 9 and 10 September. With the help of four wonderful volunteers organised by the Open House Team, the practice’s architects conducted a tour, sharing knowledge of the building including its and the local area’s history. The talk illustrated various stages of design and construction which turned the original 19th century horse stables with coachman’s living quarters into the architects’ studio with the flat above. 

The Open House atmosphere never disappoints. Visitors engage in conversations and ask questions about this and other similar projects of the practice. They all tend to be in conservation areas or are listed buildings so complex planning process is the norm. Questions about the challenges of working with existing buildings and details of sustainable solutions are typical. This year however it was particularly encouraging to see an increase in the interest in technical matters of retrofit such as types of sustainable insulation, carbon-reducing design and modern ways of on-site energy generation. 

If you missed your chance to visit 8 & 8a Belsize Court Garages this year don’t worry, we will welcome the visitors next September again.

Spotted in Belsize….

A 1950s police car outside the Magdala pub opposite Hampstead Heath railway station. Yes, it’s another film about the life and times of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK.

It’s an ITV production starring Lucy Boynton as Ruth Ellis and takes a fresh look at her chaotic life that ended in her execution after being convicted of shooting dead her former boyfriend outside the pub. Due on screen next year.

From Elysian Fields to Trains and Villas

Averil Nottage gives us a flavour of her guided walk this autumn which will look at the history of the Eton College estate: 

In the first half of the 19th century the Belsize estate, which had good views of the City, was divided up to provide country residences for wealthy Londoners.  The Eton College estate, to the south of England’s Lane and Lancaster Grove, was lower lying and continued to be farmed as hay meadows.

Apart from two former farmhouses on a track known as England’s Lane, the only properties on the Eton College estate were those in the hamlet of Haverstock Hill on the Hampstead Road.  These are shown in the foreground of John Constable’s “View of the City of London from Sir Richard Steele’s Cottage”, which he painted in around 1832.  The simple white cottage, standing on a bank to the right, was set back from the Hampstead Road and shielded by trees.  It was named after Dick Steele, the Anglo-Irish essayist and playwright who temporarily sought solitude there in 1712.  He was knighted three years later.

Opposite the cottage on the painting is the rustic Load of Hay tavern (which was rebuilt and is now the Haverstock Tavern).  Here, gentlemen of the road drew bridle beside the horse block to refresh themselves with a tankard of ripe ale before setting out across country.  Drovers on their way to market left their cattle drinking at the water trough while quenching their own thirst at the inn.  Coachmen heading for Hampstead stopped to refresh themselves, and their horses, before the final ascent. Londoners enjoying a country walk rested in the tea garden.  During haymaking, labourers gathered to tipple and laugh, quarrel and fight, and sing drowsy songs far into the night. 

The substantial brick houses below the inn replaced wooden structures built for Moll King in the 1730s, as David S. Percy explains in his fascinating book about “The Harlots of Haverstock Hill: ‘Moll’ King and her Belsize Houses.”  We don’t know whether these services were still available in Constable’s time.

Below the hamlet of Haverstock Hill are yellow hayfields.  The American writer Washington Irving, who stayed in Steele’s Cottage in the early 1820s, spent many delicious hours lying on the new mown hay and inhaling the fragrance amongst buzzing summer flies and leaping grasshoppers.  Almost all the meadows, as far as the eye could see, grew hay, with overloaded wooden carts rumbling down the road to London to feed the Capital’s horses.  They would return full of horse manure to enrich the soil.  Londoners came to these isolated meadows to fight duels, hold protest meetings and enjoy country walks.

Beyond the hayfields we see the smoky metropolis.  This was largely beyond the New Road, now known as Euston Road.  Constable would probably have seen the buildings of Camden Town creeping northwards, but he was taking artistic licence in showing St Paul’s from this vantage point.

When the Regents Park canal was completed in 1820, farming on the estate became less profitable as hay could be transported cheaply from further afield.  But the Provost and Fellows of Eton College had little incentive to develop the land as they personally profited when farm leases were renewed.  It was only when they saw the benefits of neighbouring housing developments, such as St John’s Wood, that they started to reconsider.

A plan to build Adelaide Road across the estate in the early 1830s was disrupted by the arrival of the London Birmingham railway.  George Stephenson, the engineer who oversaw the project, used pioneering methods to build an iron bridge at Chalk Farm and a tunnel under Primrose Hill with a grand ornamental entrance.  Large crowds came to visit these novel sights.

Gradually houses started to be built near the Hampstead Road.  Samuel Cuming was the main developer and in the late 1840s built villas in the triangular corner of the estate at Chalk Farm between Provost Road and Eton Road.  It took many more decades to build over the whole estate and in the meantime dairies, market gardens and nurseries, as well as an exotic poultry farm and a cricket ground, appeared.  After proposals were made to develop Primrose Hill as botanical gardens or a cemetery, an agreement was reached with Eton College for it to be preserved as a public open space. 

I will cover all these stories, and more, in a guided walk for the Belsize Society on the development of the Eton College estate in the first half of the 19th century. Please do sign up for this walk on EventBrite.

Open House Festival 2023

Live over Work: Visit a carbon-reducing retrofit in Belsize 

Sanya Polescuk Architects are opening their offices, with living spaces above, as part of this year’s Open House Festival. If you are able to drop by, then the address is 8 Belsize Court Garages NW3 5AJ and tour dates/timings will be confirmed in August at The festival runs 6 to 17 September.

Originally a Victorian live-work coach-and-horses stables with hayloft and coachman’s quarters above, this 19th-century mews house is now home to an award-winning architects’ studio, a local community land trust and a 4-bedroom upper maisonette rented as an HMO normally closed to the public. The mix of activities within plays an active role in the lives of the local community. 

The main idea behind the project was to return the building to its originally intended use i.e. provide a place to live and work. As important was to retain the original Victorian features while making as many carbon-reducing and energy-saving improvements as possible (working towards Code of Sustainable Building, Code Level 4).

Come and meet the architects who work in the office on the ground floor and listen to some interesting facts about the building, go through the development phases with more detail, and have a sneak peek into the archives with samples. The tour will not only reveal secrets about architectural practice but also about an energy-efficient historic house which has retained its unique character.

In Camden borough, there are 22 Festival entries this year and, near to Belsize, the Isokon Building is opening. This Grade I listed 1934 residential block of flats was designed by the Canadian modernist architect Wells Coates for clients Jack and Molly Pritchard. Previous Newsletter articles have highlighted the historic nature of the building. An English Heritage blue plaque for Bauhaus masters Gropius, Breuer and Moholy-Nagy has been placed on the building.

Nearby and open will be the Hampstead Friends Meeting House, at 120 Heath Street, NW3 1DR. This is a listed Arts and Crafts freestyle building with plain interior and many charming original features, sympathetically modernised in 1991.

Full Festival details at The festival runs 6 to 17 September.